by Julia K. Patt
My mother taught me how to walk the moon road. We find it with the tips of our toes, sliding them along the slick bottom of the river. If I close my eyes, I can feel the slightest edge. I ease the ball joint, the sole, the heel up out of the water. The foot that emerges is not human with its short dark nails and tufts of fur. My nose elongates, protrudes. Whiskers tickle my cheeks. My ears swivel, seeking the sounds of night.
It is a gentle transformation.
Mother and I walk the moon road, swishing our tails. We bound over the water, chase meteors, pounce on constellations. We grin at each other the way dogs do—it’s said they learned that from people. Maybe they learned it from people like us.
One night, as we are returning home, a fish leaps out of the water below. I peer over the edge, thinking maybe to catch it, bring it wriggling up into the moonlight. Mother stops me, nipping my muzzle.
“Leaving the path,” she tells me later, “is not safe.”
As it turns out, the world is not safe.
Mother knows I like this river, these trees. Maybe that is why we have stayed so long. We should have moved on by now, away from prying and fearful eyes.
They come at night, as they often do, to smoke us out with dull red flames. Bullets whiz past our ears as we flee. To the river. To the moon road, where we can ascend out of their reach.
I stumble, trying to find the edge under the water. It is not an easy thing to do on a normal night and my heartbeat is drumming in my ears. Mother, against my pleas that she go on, comes back to help me. Guides me to the edge of the road. As I scramble up, a shot echoes over the water. She tumbles back into the moonlight—my beautiful dark-haired mother, my beautiful sable-furred mother—and lies still.
I drag her body up the shining path, where the moon can carry her away when it sets. Nuzzle her once with my nose.
It hurts to leap from the road and into the inky water. It hurts every night now, when the wolf rips herself from my skin, wrenches my bones the way she wants them, spits out the vestigial organs she no longer needs. I do not tread the moon road anymore. Only the fields and forests where my neighbors make their homes.
When they look out into the shadows, they’ll see my eyes. Glowing. Bright.
Julia Patt has never met an abandoned building she didn’t like. Her work has appeared in such publications as Expanded Horizons, Phantom Drift, and The Fiction Desk. She also edits Seven by Twenty (@7×20), a journal of twitter literature–or twitterature, if you prefer.